Speculation about who the GOP VP running mate will be is ramping up, even though who the GOP's Presidential nominee will be is, shall we say, still up for grabs.
Who might be the choice of the
party, the nominee, the Tea Party, the evangelicals ... Aw hell, who might be the GOP's VP running mate with Whoever in 2012?
Yes, there is a chance to actually become President, a lofty office of considerable authority held by relatively few people. Besides, you get Secret Service protection for life and a big library with your name on it. But a VP running mate stands only that - a chance of becoming President. It is decidedly not a sure thing. Given the contentious beginnings of the vice presidency and the scorn heaped upon it over the ages and the uncertain path to get there, the phrase "running mate" with its parallels to marriage seems particularly apt.
We can obsess about who might be asked. At least as pertinent is the question - who in their right mind would be willing?
First, some history. The whole business of running for President after serving as someone's VP is not at all encouraging, for it started out badly.
1796 was the first contested US presidential election. John Adams had been George Washington's VP for two terms. Adams squeaked out a 71-68 electoral victory after a ferocious and invective-filled campaign that makes today's attack ads seem tame. Reported breathlessly by the liberal media of the day, much of the scandalmongering vituperation came from friends and supporters of that courtly Virginia gentleman, Thomas Jefferson. The irony was that P. Adams was stuck with V.P. Jefferson even though they were from two warring political parties because back then, whoever got the next highest votes became vice president, a process that was not to be repeated.
The US has had 47 vice-presidents in 223 years. While fourteen of them became president, only nine - less than 20% - were actually elected to the higher office. (One wasn't elected as vice president or to the presidency.) (And we're going to ignore Dick Cheney who served as acting president twice for slightly more than two hours each, when Shrub had medical treatment.) (See footnote.)
A position much scorned by some who knew it best. John Adams called it "... the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived." Daniel Webster declined the opportunity with: ""I do not intend to be buried until I am dead." And Harry Truman, who was not a close confidant of President Franklin Roosevelt, said the main job of a vice president was to go to weddings and funerals. Gerald Ford's VP, Nelson Rockefeller, realized that the job was not a leadership position. John Nance Garner, who ran for nomination against FDR, was able to deal himself in as FDR's first VP (of three) and then disagreed publicly with his president. Garner famously remarked that the VP job was "not worth a warm bucket of spit." That last word has also been reported as "piss" as well as .. well, never mind. Garner decided the job was "the worst damn fool mistake I ever made."
How Running Mates are chosen. For much of the 20th century, VP running mates were chosen the way Presidents were, through artful politicking and negotiations with the party-powerful, often behind closed doors in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms, sometimes contrary to the preferences of the man chosen to be president. Some might argue this practice continues to this day.
Certain factors are said to be at play in choosing who should run as VP. The main theme of all of them in recent times seems to have been to fill in the presidential nominee's gaps and faults.
Regional Balance. Presidential candidates from New England states might favor a VP from Texas or California, such as JFK with Lyndon Johnson (1960) and Michael Dukakis with Lloyd Bentsen (1988). What happens when someone from Texas gets the nomination? Well, Bush chose Cheney, a fellow Texan who then relocated to Wyoming. Staying within the region may not hurt: Bill Clinton (AR) chose Al Gore (TN). But regional balance inter alia didn't help Gore with Lieberman (CT) in 2000, nor Bush the First with his selection of J. Danforth Quayle (IN) in 1992. Might some other factor be more conducive to success?
Electoral Vote Bringer. The big ones, as of the 2010 census, are California (55), Texas (38), Florida and New York (29 each), Illinois and Pennsylvania (20 each) and Georgia and Michigan (16 each). The Kansan Dwight Eisenhower's hold-his-nose choice of Richard Nixon from California (1952) comes to mind here. Swing states could also be in play under this factor, which adds a limitless number of aspirants.
Ideology. It is said the conservative Ronald Reagan chose the moderate George H.W. Bush in 1980. (OK, folks, have your fun ... but that was said.) This factor could be put to work in the GOP of 2012. For example, Newt Gingrich probably couldn't select a moderate but he could go the other direction and pick Ron Paul. And Mitt Romney would have an extraordinarily rich array of choices even if he chose within just the Tea Party faithful. Who Ron Paul would pick to achieve ideological balance boggles the mind. As of last look at Ron Paul's website, the leading vote getter for his VP is Andrew Napoltano, a libertarian talk show host and Fox "legal analyst." Son Rand comes in second, so that must either be for reassurance or geographical distribution.
Kidding aside, the advantage to a cross-cultural running mate in a deeply politically divided American landscape is to send him/her into places the presidential candidate would be less welcome, less appealing, less ... whatever.
American Idol/Pizzaz. This was the key, obviously, in 2008 when McCain and his advisors plucked Sarah Palin (Governor, Alaska) from obscurity. Then again ...
Competency to be President. In the current GOP climate, the less said about this, the better.
So, who's being mentioned? Not that that makes a difference, but it's a place to start. The New Republic published a list in mid-January entitled "The Vice Squad" (its title, not mine!) prominently featuring Marco Rubio and including:
Susanna Martinez (Governor, New Mexico)
Chris Christie (Governor, New Jersey)
Rob Portman (Senator, Ohio)
John Thune (Senator, South Dakota)
Bob McDonnell (Governor, Virginia)
Nikki Haley (Governor, South Carolina)
Brian Sandoval (Governor, Nevada)
Mitch Daniels (Governor, Indiana)
To which, one might add Tim Pawlenty (ex-Governor of Minnesota), Jon Huntsman (ex-Governor of Utah) and, Yes, she-must-be-mentioned, Michelle Bachmann (Representative, Minnesota). Of course, in the alternate universe of the GOP in 2012, who could you exclude? Eliza Gray, assistant editor of The New Republic and author of that Vice Squad article, quoted a Republican strategist who worked for the McCain-Palin campaign:
“There is probably more enthusiasm for the potential V.P. pick than there is for the overall Republican field.”
The moxie potential VP candidate is not going to say that she or he wants the job. So it's not surprising that Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels and Marco Rubio denounce the possibility and everyone else is coy. Why become a lightening rod? Or, heaven forfend, want the job and appear to have ambitions for it?
So, who would want it? In this climate, with any of the potential P candidates? Against Barack Obama and Joe Biden?
A lot of 'em. Just watch!
(Oh Yeah, the footnote. The unelected VP/P was Gerald Ford who came to both offices after both predecessors left town in disgrace. Ford was appointed by Richard Nixon when Spiro Agnew resigned under charges of bribery and tax evasion, was confirmed by a majority of the House and Senate and became president less than a year later when Nixon resigned under the weight of the Watergate scandal. Richard Bruce "Dick" Cheney was president from 7:09 am to 9:24 am on June 29, 2002, and from 7:16 am to 9:21 am on July 21, 2007, according to news reports, when George W. Bush underwent colorectal screening and polyp removal, respectively. Cheney may have been acting president on many other occasions, but we will never know the truth of that.)